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Dear Editor:
A complaint was filed on Dec. 24 in the federal district court in Los Angeles on behalf of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Alliance of Iranian Americans (AIA), the National Council of Pakistani Americans (NCPA), and six individuals required to register (four who registered and were arrested, two of whom entered on a Visa Waiver Program and therefore face removal without a hearing, and two who did not register as they fear illegal arrest). The complaint includes two claims: (1) The mass warrantless arrests are illegal because they are taking place without required individualized determinations that the registrant is likely to flee before a warrant can be obtained (a requirement of the Immigration and Nationality Act), and (2) persons with adjustment applications pending and visas available should not be detained without bond or deported (an immediate problem faced by individuals who entered on a Visa Waiver Program).

While the plaintiffs all believe the registration program is not an effective tool in the war on terrorism, the lawsuit is not a general attack on the program, but rather on the way it is being implemented, at least in Southern California where the only mass arrests seem to have taken place. The mass warrantless arrests are not only unlawful, they also seriously undermine the registration program by creating widespread fear in the Muslim and Arab immigrant communities deterring people from timely registering. These individuals may later face serious penalties for not having timely registered. We will probably soon amend the complaint to seek an "extension" of the registration deadlines in light of the mass arrests which discouraged individuals from timely registering. We allege a class of all persons required to register in the INS Western Region. We would like to hear from community groups, advocates, and lawyers about the experience in cities other than Los Angeles as we need to quickly determine whether to limit the class to the Los Angeles district office, or keep it as broad as the Western Region. We are interested in learning about a few types of cases: (1) people arrested who entered on a Visa Waiver Program and therefore face immediate removal without a hearing, (2) people arrested despite having a pending adjustment application with a visa currently available, (3) people arrested who wish to pursue a claim for damages for wrongful arrest, and (4) anyone else in urgent need of help.

We are trying to set up a meeting with INS officials in LA for early this coming week to explore whether the registration program can be implemented without future mass arrests. We will keep you posted. We've agreed to delay a TRO hearing for a few days while we explore the possibility of a meeting and while the question of which judge will preside over the case is resolved. The case was originally assigned to district judge Tagasuki in Los Angeles, but was then low-numbered and transferred to judge Stotler in Orange County (who recently denied a TRO in another case dealing with the registration program). We're opposing the transfer and hope in the next few days to learn whether the case will be transferred back to judge Tagasuki. Either way, unless a meeting bears positive results, we plan to seek a preliminary injunction blocking further mass warrantless arrests before the next January 10, 2003, deadline for registration, and a temporary restraining order barring the removal of individuals who have visas available but entered on a Visa Waiver Program and therefore face imminent removal from the country. Articles are available on the web (New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, LA Daily Journal, St. Louis Dispatch, BBC, CNN, etc. all have reports on the registration program and the lawsuit available on their web sites). ADC's and CAIR's web sites also include useful information on the registration program and the case, as does the web site of the American Immigration Lawyer's Association (AILA). A group of about 12 public interest and private lawyers is working on the case (see complaint pp. 1-2).

Peter Schey
Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law
Los Angeles, CA

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